Volunteering, A Historical View During National Volunteer Week (April 22-April 27)

For many non-profits, volunteers are viewed the backbone of the organization. Roadrunner’s volunteers are viewed in this same way. They put in thousandss upon thousands of hours and dedicate themselves to a cause that they truly care about. In the United States, 83.9 million adults volunteer and their contribution is worth over $239 billion! Volunteering in America has a long legacy that dates back more than a hundred years. Today, I wanted to share information that I found about the history of volunteering here in America.

How Volunteering Began
In the early 19th century, few formal charitable organizations existed to help people in need. Because the wealthy were not obligated to give back to the poor, in Tudor England the government began to charge a tax on landowners and used this to help the poor. Farmers would also pitch in to help each other with large projects like raising a barn.

19th Century Volunteers
In the early 19th century, America experienced the Great Awakening, a religious revival. As part of the Great Awakening, people became more conscious of the disadvantaged. This was one cause of the movement against slavery. Young people, especially, began to help the needy in their communities. In 1851, the first YMCA in the United States opened its doors, followed seven years later by the first YWCA. During the Civil War, women volunteered their time to sew supplies for the soldiers.

Early 20th Century Volunteers
In the first few decades of the 20th century, several volunteer organizations were founded, including the Rotary Club, Kiwanis, Lions Club and the predecessor to the United Way. The Great Depression saw one of the first large-scale, nationwide efforts to coordinate volunteerism for a specific need. By 1940, 28 cities had volunteer bureaus. During World War II, thousands of volunteer offices supervised the volunteers who helped with the many needs of the military and the home front, including collecting supplies, entertaining soldiers on leave, and caring for the injured.

Post-War Volunteering
After World War II, the passion of volunteers to help others shifted focus to other areas, including helping the poor and volunteering overseas. A major development was the Peace Corps in 1960. When President Lyndon B. Johnson declared a “War on Poverty” in 1964, new volunteer organizations formed to help the poor. Over the next few decades, volunteer opportunities continued to expand and the process for finding volunteer work became more formalized, with more volunteer centers forming and new ways to find volunteer work appearing on the World Wide Web.

Volunteering Today
Today, volunteers help with a variety of organizations, including religious, health, social service, arts, sports, political and educational. The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists almost a dozen different activities that volunteers help with, including fundraising, distributing food, coaching and mentoring.

And at Roadrunner Food Bank, volunteers are a key component of helping us distribute more than 22 million pounds of food annually. Volunteers help us prep food for distribution including sorting through food, repacking bulk food items for distribution, filling food boxes and so much more. Last year, volunteers provided the Food Bank branches more than 40,000 hours of service from a small army of individuals, groups, families and companies. In fact last year, more than 18,200 people came through our doors to help at least once.

Our work is possible because of that army of volunteers that help us ensure that nearly 40,000 hungry New Mexicans have food each week. During National Volunteer Week, we wish to thank each and every one of you! Together you are helping solve hunger!

Matt Sanderson is the Event and Volunteer Engagement Manager at Roadrunner Food Bank.

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